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How to Write a Cover Letter

Writing a cover letter can make a big difference!
A cover letter typically accompanies each resume you send out. Your cover letter may make the difference between obtaining a job interview and having your resume ignored, so, it makes good sense to devote the necessary time and effort to writing effective cover letters.

A cover letter should complement, not duplicate your resume. Its purpose is to interpret the data-oriented, factual resume and add a personal touch. A cover letter is often your earliest written contact with a potential employer, creating a critical first impression.

There are three general types of cover letters:

  • The application letter which responds to a known job opening
  • The prospecting letter which inquires about possible positions
  • The networking letter which requests information and assistance in your job search

Your cover letter should be designed specifically for each purpose outlined above as well as for each position you seek. Do not design a form letter and send it to every potential employer (you know what you do with junk mail!).

Effective cover letters explain the reasons for your interest in the specific organization and identify your most relevant skills or experiences (remember, relevance is determined by the employer's self-interest). They should express a high level of interest and knowledge about the position.

To be effective, your cover letter should follow the basic format of a typical business letter and should address three general issues:

1. First Paragraph - Why you are writing
2. Middle Paragraphs - What you have to offer
3. Concluding Paragraph - How you will follow-up

Why You Are Writing
In some cases, you may have been referred to a potential employer by a friend or acquaintance. Be sure to mention this mutual contact, by name, up front since it is likely to encourage your reader to keep reading!

If you are writing in response to a job posting, indicate where you learned of the position and the title of the position. More importantly, express your enthusiasm and the likely match between your credentials and the position's qualifications.

If you are writing a prospecting letter - a letter in which you inquire about possible job openings - state your specific job objective. Since this type of letter is unsolicited, it is even more important to capture the reader’s attention.

If you are writing a networking letter to approach an individual for information, make your request clear.

What You Have To Offer
In responding to an advertisement, refer specifically to the qualifications listed and illustrate how your particular abilities and experiences relate to the position for which you are applying. In a prospecting letter express your potential to fulfill the employer's needs rather than focus on what the employer can offer you. You can do this by giving evidence that you have researched the organization thoroughly and that you possess skills used within that organization.

Emphasize your achievements and problem-solving skills. Show how your education and work skills are transferable, and thus relevant, to the position for which you are applying.

How You Will Follow Up
Close by reiterating your interest in the job and letting the employer know how they can reach you and include your phone number and/or email address. Or bid directly for the job interview or informational interview and indicate that you will follow-up with a telephone call to set up an appointment at a mutually convenient time. Be sure to make the call within the time frame indicated.

In some instances, an employer may explicitly prohibit phone calls or you may be responding to a “blind want-ad” which precludes you from this follow-up. Unless this is the case, make your best effort to reach the organization. At the very least, you should confirm that your materials were received and that your application is complete.

If you are applying from outside the employer’s geographic area you may want to indicate if you’ll be in town during a certain time frame (this makes it easier for the employer to agree to meet with you).

Cover Letter Tips

Send a customized cover letter with each resume you send out. Your cover letter may make the difference between obtaining a job interview and having your resume ignored. Even if an employer doesn't request a cover letter, it's helpful to send one.

 

Target your cover letter. Take the job posting and list the criteria the employer is looking for. Then list the skills and experience you have. Either address how your skills match the job in paragraph form or list the criteria and your qualifications.

Don't rehash your resume. Your cover letter should complement, not duplicate your resume. Expand on your resume and highlight your background as it relates to the job.

Write simply and clearly. Get right to the point and write short, targeted letters. Each letter should be one page, or less. Each paragraph should contain three or four sentences, at most.

Personalize your letter. If you can, address it to the individual responsible for hiring. If need be, research online or make a phone call to find out who the hiring manager is.

Use email for cover letters, but, keep them short and include in the email message. Don't send as an attachment unless the employer specifically requests one.

Spell check and proofread. Then ask someone else to read your correspondence before you send it. It's often easy not to notice mistakes in our own writing.

Write simply and clearly. Get right to the point and write short, targeted letters. Each letter should be one page, or less. Each paragraph should contain three or four sentences, at most.

 

Take a look at some Cover Letter examples and Formats

Source: About.com

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